Running is often held up as a beautiful sport because of its simplicity–at least, in the western world. But for many women, cultural taboos make running anything but simple. In 2015, a few women participated in Afghanistan’s first marathon, with support from Canadian Stephanie Case and her organization, Free to Run. The following year, a couple of other Canadians were inspired to help, and filmmaker Kate McKenzie’s film The Secret Marathon is now set to open at film festivals in Ontario and Alberta.
“It is so exciting to be able to share the story of The Secret Marathon with the world,” says McKenzie. “It really would not have been possible without all of the amazing support of the running community.”
For McKenzie, the project involved training for her first marathon, which she ran in Afghanistan in 2016. The film itself has been a marathon, since raising support and funds was hampered by the need for secrecy, so as not to compromise the safety of either the female runners participating, or McKenzie’s crew. And one participant’s decision not to appear in the film after all (for reasons of safety) led to a delay as the film was recut. In March 2019, runners across Canada participated in a 3K race to support the film and the cause of women’s freedom to run.
The Secret Marathon will première at Cinéfest in Sudbury, Ont. on September 22 at 11:00 a.m. McKenzie and Martin Parnell, author of a book on the same subject, will join the Sudbury Running Room’s Sunday morning run club in running to the opening at the SilverCity cinema (a distance of 9.1K). If you’re in the area and would like to join the run, you can sign up on Facebook here, or buy a ticket to the screening only here.
The film will also open in Edmonton at EIFF on October 4 at 7:00 p.m.
You can read more about how this film and Parnell’s book, came to be made, here.
UPDATE October 15, 2019: The two screenings were a great success. The Secret Marathon, which premiered at Sudbury’s Cinéfest, was the runner up for its Audience Choice Award. At the Edmonton International Film Festival it won the Audience Choice Award for best documentary. The filmmakers are now approaching other film festivals and looking for wider distribution.
If running inspires you, and if you’ve ever been tempted to take your freedom to run for granted, look for an opportunity to see this film. You’ll be inspired by the incredible beauty of Afghanistan, and by Martin and Kate’s telling of its most vulnerable people’s struggle for freedom to run.